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Everyday Tools for Cleaning Awkward Spaces

May 30, 2023May 30, 2023

From mold-prone nooks to crumb-collecting crannies, there are some dirty spots that even the hardest-working cleaning tools can’t reach. Fortunately, you don’t need specialty products to tackle a tight squeeze. Wirecutter staffers use these common household items to slip into small spaces and excise gunk.

Your phone’s charging port clogs easily with pocket lint or any manner of debris while bouncing around in a bag, and a grubby port can make powering your device a struggle. In our guide on how to clean your phone, we recommend gently using a wooden toothpick for cleaning the inside of ports. Metal (like the tip of a paper clip) can damage the internals, cotton swabs might leave behind more debris, and compressed air just pushes dirt further up inside.

The slots of the toaster can be difficult—and even dangerous—to reach. Hopefully you learned long ago to never stick a knife inside a toaster, and shaking it upside-down can damage the delicate solder joints and cause an electronic component to give out. Our guide on how to clean toasters suggests using a clean, soft-bristle pastry brush (not silicone, because it clings to dry material and could damage the toaster elements). A small, soft paint brush works well, too. Make sure the toaster is completely cool and unplugged, then gently brush away crumbs that cling to the side of the toaster to avoid excess smoke or potentially even a fire.

Clogs cause bottlenecks in vacuums, especially in the intake of the cleaning head or the junction where the shaft meets the dust bin. Our guide on how to clean a vacuum cleaner recommends cleaning what you can with your fingers. For reaching deeper, we like to use a chopstick. Be sure to maneuver gently so you don’t poke too hard at the inside tubing if your clog is located in a flexible portion of hose.

In older houses, dust, hair, and assorted debris builds up between wooden floorboards if they’ve begun to warp or separate. You can use the dull side of a butter knife to gently work dirt out of wider cracks as you follow along with a hand vacuum. One Wirecutter editor uses a putty knife for the task, while another prefers the thin, tapered end of a Lego brick separator to dislodge gunk out of narrow spots, finding it especially useful after waking up to find a hairball that’s been congealing all night.

A pole-mounted shower caddy easily collects mold in the corner crevice where the pole meets your tub. Threading dental floss around the base of the pole and gently pulling back and forth will loosen mildew along with any dried-on goo from shampoo or body wash that’s leaked down there, too.

This article was edited by Joshua Lyon, Harry Sawyers, Brittney Ho and Sofia Sokolove.

Ellen Airhart

Ellen Airhart is an associate writer at Wirecutter, where she covers cleaning and emergency preparedness. Please email her with your biggest messes and most anxious thoughts.

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